By setting unreasonable limits
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Limits on election spending only empower the politically connected and further marginalise those with no resources
Gopinath Munde's revelation about spending Rs 8 crore for his election during the 2009 elections has opened an important and necessary debate on campaign finance in India. The Election Commission, given the law of the land, has served him a notice to explain, within 20 days, the difference in the amount he filed as his account of election expenditure (Rs 19.36 lakh) and his "publicly admitted" amount on June 27. The income tax department has also sent him a notice. Munde and his lawyers will look for ways to produce a written explanation that will try to save him from disqualification or other punishment stipulated by law. However, even if they succeed in clarifying the expenditures made by Munde, it is still an open question as to where he got the Rs 8 crore to spend on campaigning, when his affidavit filed in 2009 suggests that he had assets worth Rs 6.2 crore and approximately Rs 4.5 crore in liabilities.
Our concern is very different from the legal issues raised by the case. We believe that given Munde's political experience, his statements have to be taken seriously when he points towards an obvious problem in the limits placed on campaign expenditures set by the government of the day in consultation with the EC. In our opinion, a limit on election expenses set by the government should be reflective of the actual cost of campaigning. Ideally, every candidate should have the ability to reach every voter in a constituency. After all, shouldn't voters make informed choices?
Many civil society activists have argued that the limits on campaign expenditures are often exceeded because candidates are parachuted to contest in a constituency by a party from some other place. Candidates, therefore, have no idea about their constituency, and do not have enough workers on the ground during election season. Well, it would be hard to charge Munde with this. He was born in Beed, began his political career much before Emergency was declared in 1975, contested his first state assembly election in 1977, got his first electoral success in 1978 in the zila parishad election in his hometown, won the Renapur state assembly seat in 1980, was president of the Maharashtra unit of the BJP's youth wing and in 1986, became the youngest state president of a political party. Munde has been an MLA for five terms, the leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra state assembly, the state's deputy chief minister between 1995 and 1999, and is currently the deputy leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha. Given Munde's political stature in a career spanning a little more than four decades, it should not be hard to imagine the team of volunteers he must have at his command.